Thursday, June 4, 2020

Rock Star Content Marketing Pivots: How to Engage your Audience in Innovative Ways when You Can't Do What You Do

Rock Star Content Marketing Pivots Empty Stage

"I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to. It’s not a choice." - Dave Grohl 
Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters
With the words above, Dave Grohl is describing how COVID-19 is affecting concert tours. In “The Day the Live Concert Returns” for The Atlantic, he summarizes everything many of us are feeling. I shouted a loud “Hell Yeah!” after reading it. We will rock again...but when? The problem is that the chance of bands touring this year is pretty slim. And, next year is still a huge question. 

While many businesses are reopening, there are some industries, like concert touring, that are a long way off. What can you do in the meantime to hold on to your customers? To bring in money? To survive? Now more than ever content marketing pivots are the key. Who better to show us how than rock bands? 

I’m a firm believer that rock bands are incredible content marketers. Many are already pivoting to keep their fans engaged. You can learn a lot from the adjustments they’ve made. Understanding what your audience needs right now and altering your content marketing strategy to deliver it is what’s going to keep them loyal to you once you’re fully operational again (That sounds like I’m describing the Death Star, doesn’t it?). Read on to learn what bands are doing and how you can apply the same concepts to your marketing. 

Empty Arena

Concerts: What Bands CAN Do

The first place to start is to understand the most affected part of your business. For bands, concerts with large crowds aren’t possible right now. At least the type of concerts we’re used to. But, are there ways to create a live concert based on the new rules of engagement? 

One option is to create a concert experience with social distancing and protection. The first attempt was a Travis McCready concert in Arkansas. The capacity was 229 tickets based on “fan pods” of 2 to 12 seats all at least six feet apart. The normal capacity for the arena they played is ~1,100. Fans wore masks and had their temperatures taken when they entered. They made hand sanitizer available in many locations. All food and beverages were pre-packaged. 

This could allow bands to offer fans a more intimate show than they usually would. And, bands may be able to charge more for tickets with fewer available and a different type of show. But, they may need to consider what their fans can afford right now as many may be out of work.
Drive-In Concert

Another option is the concept of a “drive-in” concert. Like a drive-in movie, fans will park and watch the concert from their cars. I’m not one to sit at a concert, so this doesn’t feel like a great option for me. This also would bring some security processes to consider. What happens when fans get out of their cars to dance? Or, to run up to the stage? Do you allow alcohol sales to fans in their cars? Also, are they charging tickets by car or by person?

I can’t imagine what that experience would be like for the artists either. Glimpses of movement within the car to know they’re enjoying it. Muffled screams. Headlights instead of holding up your lighters...or your phones now? All that said, it could be a viable option. 

Brand Takeaway: 
You may not be able to serve your customers the same way you used to, but what can you do? Restaurants quickly adjusted to providing carryout and delivery. This included updating their advertising and marketing to promote it. As they’re reopening, they’re following guidelines to keep customers safe. Grocery stores limited the number of people allowed in the store at one time. They redirected the customer flow to help limit the number of people in aisles.

What can you adjust to continue helping your customers get what they need from you? Going out of your way to accommodate them will win you big points and that will pay off down the road. Help them feel safe and appreciated. 

Improve on Available Technology

Guns n' Roses

Remember pay-per-view concerts? In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, popular bands like The Rolling Stones and Guns n’ Roses broadcast live concerts through cable TV. These were occasions when I was in high school. I remember chipping in with a bunch of friends to pay the $19.95 and watching at one of our houses. 

YouTube now offers almost any concert performance you can think of for free. It’s hard to imagine paying to watch a live performance on TV. Plus, many bands are streaming concerts. Foo Fighters, Rolling Stones and Metallica are offering their favorite performances each week. It’s fun to see these hand-picked performances and it keeps us excited to buy tickets when they get back on the road. 

One of my favorite new video offerings is the quarantine songs that bands are recording. Each member records them playing their separate part. For the full song, we see the screen broken into segments for each member. Sammy Hagar and the Circle were the first I saw (there may have been others before). They started by recording a new song (“Funky Feng Shui”) and released it in pieces. First, the drums. Then, Michael Anthony added the bass. Then, the guitar. Finally, Sammy Hagar added the vocals. It was a fun way to see the song come together. Later recordings (all cover tunes) only offered the finished product. 

There have also been different artists collaborating on some of their favorite songs. BBC Radio 1 produced a cover of Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” with the band and the “Live Lounge Allstars.” They donated proceeds from the song to BBC Children in Need, Comic Relief and the World Health Organization's COVID-19-Solidarity Response Fund.

Brand Takeaway: 
Are you able to improve, innovate or even change what you offer? Could you update your products with newer technology? Could you make your products in a better way? What about offering something different or new that your customers need now?

Some beer and liquor producers are making hand sanitizer. Auto factories are making respirators. In Cleveland, a local business pivoted to producing Plexiglas barriers for retail stores. This creates new sales opportunities (or donations in some cases). What new opportunities can you capitalize on to keep profits coming in? 

Go Deeper Behind the Scenes

Instagram - Dave's True Stories - Dave Grohl - Foo Fighters
With social media, bands have opened up portions of their lives we never got to see before. Backstage photos, videos of show prep, or artists at home doing mundane tasks give us daily access. Some bands may be able to take us even deeper behind the scenes. 

One example is Dave Grohl’s new Instagram account, Dave’s True Stories. With it, he tells in-depth stories about his experiences from his career. Examples include jamming with Prince and when Foo Fighters played Ozzfest. Grohl lets us in. He describes what he was feeling in the most conversational tone. You feel like you’re having a drink with him while he tells you every rock story you ever wanted to hear. 

Besides reading stories, what if you could watch bands create their next hit record? How many times have you heard a song from your favorite band and wondered how they came up with it? We all wish we could be a fly on the wall during their creative processes. Some bands have tried to give a little more insight into it. There are videos that chronicle the making of albums (such as Aerosmith’s The Making of Pump). 

Some bands even streamed some of their recording sessions. Bon Jovi streamed much of the recording of their Crush album back in 2000. I remember trying to log in from time to time. It was hit or miss if I actually got to see much and sometimes it was confusing. Internet connections back then were still a bit choppy too. It was interesting though, and we got to hear parts of the album before they released it. 

Bands creating new albums right now could stream it live. Today’s better technology could make it a better experience. Bands could get instant feedback from fans as they go. They could even have fans “help” them with a song. They could monetize certain aspects as premium content or sell it as a subscription. This could add a new revenue stream to replace some of the concert earnings. Plus, it promotes the album throughout the making of it. 

Brand Takeaway: 
Can you take your customers behind the scenes? Introduce employees and let them explain what they do. Let them see who’s creating the products that make their work easier. Or, meet those who are performing the services that helped them get their last promotion. Can you give customers access to the engineering of a new product? Their feedback might help you create the exact tool they need for their company.

Hit the Studio

Speaking of new albums, some bands can take this opportunity to create a new CD. Start the songwriting process and then hit the studio to record. With technology, they don't need to all be in the studio at the same time. Most can even record their parts at home. 

Depending on how long it takes, the new album release might coincide with being able to tour again. Or (and I’m sure some bands will hate this idea), band members can record that solo album they’ve hinted about for years. 

Brand Takeaway:
Are you able to invest more in your research and development (R&D) to design your next big product? Are there projects that kept getting pushed back for various reasons? Now might be the perfect time to put your resources and focus on bringing a new or improved product to market. Imagine coinciding a new product launch with your reopening.

If there are any new content platforms you’ve wanted to launch, this could be a great time. Maybe adding video into the mix is on your wish list. Start a podcast while the experts you need to interview are available. Or, you might want to learn a new tool to make your work more efficient. 

Promote New Albums in New Ways

Some bands already have new albums completed but aren't releasing it because they can’t tour. They need innovative ways to promote the album and get fans excited. How could they use social media, streaming video and other technologies? How can they use their website and music streaming services to build hype in new ways? 

Get Your Fans Behind Your Cause

Aerosmith Crew Support

One way could be to donate part of the revenue to their staff behind the scenes. These might be event staff, technicians, or others who are out of work until they can tour again. Or, set up a GoFundMe page where they ask fans to donate to help those out of work. They could release the new album early to those who donate. Or, they could even reward the city with the largest amount of donations with a special show (once they can tour). Donors could get free or preferred tickets. Even let the donors vote on the songs to make up the set list.

Brand Takeaway: 
Are there new marketing tactics you’ve wanted to try to promote your products? Now might be a great time to test reaching your audience in new ways. Your customers may be shifting the things they’re paying attention to right now. Consider tapping into social media ads. Webinars or virtual events work well in place of canceled trade shows and in-person events.

Showcase Your Fans

What better way to engage fans and keep them excited about new content than by involving them. Bands have found some creative ways to include their fans. Here are a few recent examples:
  • Jon Bon Jovi wrote a new song, “Do What You Can,” and asked fans to submit their lyrics for a verse. He posted a video where he sang a few of the submissions. Imagine if he named you and sang your for life!

  • Alice Cooper recorded a new song, “Don’t Give Up.” He asked fans to submit photos with one word from the song. He took them and used them throughout the video.
  • Aerosmith asked fans record their own versions of “Dream On” and share them. 
Brand Takeaway: 
How can you get your customers involved? Consider asking them to send you videos using your products for the first time as they get back to work or reopen. Even videos of their healthy staff that you can compile could work well.

Innovative New Music Experiences

With all the technology available, I’m hoping somebody is creating something we’ve never seen. In many industries, times like these bring about new ideas and innovations. This could be an opportunity to create an augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) experience. I'll be the first to say that AR/VR hasn’t taken off like we thought it would. It’s been the next big thing for the last 30 years. But, an immersive band and music experience might be the perfect application. I’m thinking more than recreating a concert in virtual form. This could have the potential to be much bigger. 

Some of you may remember The Rolling Stones sold a CD-ROM for their Voodoo Lounge album in 1995. You explored a virtual Voodoo Lounge where you interacted with the band (and others). You explored rooms, watched concert clips and video footage exclusive to the game. It was interesting for a little bit, but not well done for what it could have been. 

With AR/VR, the experience could be much more immersive. Imagine feeling like you’re in an arena to see your favorite band. Go backstage for exclusive content that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Interact with other fans like you would at a concert. Fans could determine their own comfort level of that type of interactivity. Gaming components like collecting things or earning points would make it more engaging. They could unlock things like performances or even actual interactions with the band.

Brand Takeaway: 
What new experiences could you create for your business? Is there something that could revolutionize the industry? What have your customers told you they always wished they could buy? Now might be the time to dig deep to see how you could provide it. Or, is there a pivot you need to make, but could never focus the resources on making it happen? You may never have time like this when you can both have the time and resources to put toward it. 

Bands who thought they were going to be touring for months may find that they’re busier than ever. They need to keep their fans excited about what they’re doing. It’s the same for you and your customers. You need to keep them engaged. Start by providing what they need right now and explore what else you can do. What other ideas do you have for companies to find ways to keep your customers engaged. Share them in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Photo Credits:
Arena photo courtesy of Joel KramerCC 2.0 with edits
Empty Stage photo courtesy of Dilated TimeCC 2.0 with edits
Discover Lehigh Valley, PA / CC 2.0

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

How to Strengthen Your Brand like Bon Jovi in Uncertain Times

Bon Jovi
Tommy and Gina got a gift from Jon Bon Jovi. He canceled Bon Jovi's 2020 tour with Bryan Adams. Not a postponement. He all out canceled it. That means people can get a refund on their tickets. Postponing the tour would at least have made people wait until they announce new dates. Tommy and Gina, who are likely furloughed or laid off right now, need that money now.
Is there any other artist that personifies the working-class man better than Jon Bon Jovi? He's always had an ability to write songs (with Richie Sambora) that we all identify with. As a multi-millionaire, it seems like it might be hard for him to still relate to the Tommys and Ginas in his songs. But from his work with his Soul Kitchens to doing right by his fans, he's following through with the brand he's developed.
I'm sure his decision came with heavy discussions with Ticketmaster. The decision to cancel ultimately comes from the artists (not Ticketmaster). I'm sure he lost some money in the deal. He's in a position where he's able to do that. Not all bands are. In fact, most can't afford to take that hit. Most are likely waiting for states to declare the concerts can't happen so their insurance can help them recoup any costs they've put in already...if the insurance even covers COVID-19 cancellations. Check the fine print. Most music industry insurance companies don’t cover pandemics. Many specifically excluded the Coronavirus starting in January. 
Ticketmaster is also staying true to the brand they've created for themselves. Seeming to always be service charge disputes, their brand is synonymous with greed. They said earlier this year that they believe fans are willing to pay much more for concert tickets. They were testing that theory with ticket prices for 2020 tours. 
Now that COVID-19 has blown up the early 2020 concert season, they changed their website to specify refunds would be available only for canceled shows. After taking a beating in the press, Ticketmaster updated their policy. Starting on May 1, they will offer 30-day windows to request a refund for rescheduled shows. With many fans who may now be out of work, that refunded money could go toward bills or other expenses.

With the possibility of no concerts for the foreseeable future, you would think they'd want as much goodwill as they could get. I don't know how they survive for a year and a half with no tickets to sell.

For brands still figuring out how to adjust their 2020 plans, this example should clarify their approach. Help your customers. Their needs have changed in ways you couldn't have imagined a couple of months ago. How can you help them now? How can you make their lives easier now? The brands that take care of their customers' bottom lines over their own will emerge more successful than those that don't. Customers will remember who helped them.

When we're all "Livin' on a Prayer," do you want to be the one that answers those prayers or the one making us pray harder? Who would you want to do business with?
Thanks for reading and add your thoughts in the comments below. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Be In Demand: 5 Things You Need to Be Doing in your Job Search Right Now

Job Search Desktop - Jeremy Bednarski

Job searches...ugh. Most of us will go through them or have gone through them. Some of us are going through them right now. It feels like your life is on hold as you go through the process. So how can you get a new position as fast as possible? I’ve gone through job searches a handful of times, so I know how tough it can be. I’ve learned a few things in my searches that work well and can help you stand out in a crowded candidate field.

It’s always good to follow the Beatles’ advice and “get by with a little help from your friends.” We all know networking is the key to finding your next position. I’m not going to go talk much about that here. You can Google the thousands (or more) of articles and blog posts with networking tips and tricks. This post is going to focus on five job search tips and tools that have helped me on top of reaching out to friends.  

Stay Positive

Stay Positive in a Job Search

It’s hard to find the silver lining when you lose your job, but keeping a positive attitude is important. You’re dealing with stress, frustration, fear, uncertainty and more. It’s ok to have those feelings and to deal with them. But, remaining positive through all that will help you do the things you need to do for your job search. It sounds cliche, but a positive attitude keeps your energy up and leads to positive results. I wrote a blog post a few years ago that outlined the way that I stay positive, especially when in a job search.  

Also, understand what you can control and what you can’t. In my current search, there were a lot of positions available a few weeks ago. The economy was great and I was getting calls and interviews weekly. Flash forward to the Coronavirus pandemic. You know what’s happening now. The economy tanked. Companies are laying employees off in record numbers and freezing their hiring. There’s nothing I can do about the situation. But, what I can control is how I conduct my job search. I’m reaching out to more contacts, writing more content, and looking for more freelance work (including building a website...coming soon). I’m making sure that hiring managers can see what I’m doing to stand out from other candidates.

Job Search Plan

The #1 most helpful document I’ve put together is my job search plan. I’ve received a lot of compliments on how useful this document is from contacts and recruiters. It shows exactly what my strengths are and the types of positions and companies I’m targeting. Instead of a vague “let me know if you hear of any job openings” statement, I show them a list of companies I’m targeting. They can see if they have any relationships with any relevant employees. If so, they can also mention one or two of my strengths when making an introduction. Recruiters appreciate the level of organization the document shows. It makes their job easier and makes them more comfortable in recommending me. 

If you’re working with an outplacement company, they are having you create this type of document. That’s how I first created it years ago. If not, it’s not hard to create. The first page is your top strengths with some descriptions. The second page is the profile of the type of companies you’re targeting with a list of examples.

Creating the document also helps you think through the types of companies that bring out your best work. Even in a tough job market, you want to be as selective as you can. You want your next opportunity to be the right fit, not the “right now” fit. Employers have a much larger pool of talent to choose from than they did a few weeks ago. Spend your time putting your best foot forward on the positions that offer you the most success.

Show Your Work

I almost always get asked what I’m doing during the job search. While searching for a job is a full-time job, I like to be able to show I’m also doing things beyond that. Because I like to write, I try to draft new posts for my blog, as well as guest posts for other sites. I also look to learn or develop new skills. This might be through practice or taking online classes (there are a lot of free options). Employers appreciate seeing you doing things to help your career while you’re in a search.

I also increase my social media posting (now that I’ve got more time). And, I’m more strategic in what I’m posting. I share more marketing-related articles and comment on my contacts’ posts more often. I tend to post things that are safe for work in general, but I’m extra careful during a job search. Other social media tips include:

Jeremy Bednarski LinkedIn Bio
  • Use your bios to let people know you're in a job search. This isn’t the time to be shy or secretive. You never know who might lead you to your next big opportunity. Use an occasional post to ask for help.
  • Take part in social media communities like Facebook Groups or Twitter Chats. You can show your expertise in a number of subjects and possibly catch the eye of a potential employer. Again, don’t hesitate to say you’re searching for a job. No one can help you if they don’t know you need it. That said, make sure you follow any protocols so you don’t get on the bad side of the administrators. 
  • Take the time to experiment with new media or platforms. I’ve tried to add a video here and there as I haven’t done a lot of videos in my career. And, I’m not comfortable on camera so it’s helping me get past that. If there’s a platform you haven’t tried yet (TikTok?), try it out. You may find that helps you in your next position.

Another great way to get your work out there is to pick up some freelance jobs. Not only does it keep you active, but it also brings in some cash when you need it. If you’re new to freelancing like I am, it’s not hard to get started. I talked to a few freelance friends to find out how they started and what I needed to know. They had some great advice. I would recommend you do the same and get advice from those already doing it. There are also a bunch of articles and posts you can research.

Develop the Brand of You

Mark Schaefer - KnownNow more than ever it’s important that you build your personal brand. Following the tips above will help you. Being active in your industry (for me, the content marketing community) helps more people become aware of you and your expertise. This may open up new opportunities for you and/or employers may become aware of you before you apply for jobs.

For more information on building your brand, Dennis Shiao wrote a post for Content Marketing Institute. In it, he explains how he created his personal brand after his former company laid him off years ago. For a step-by-step plan, check out Mark Schaefer’s book, Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. I can’t recommend it enough.

Dig Into Your Toolbox

There are many tools that can help you with your job search. Here are a few that I’ve been using.


OK, this one is obvious. But, be sure you’re using it for more than looking at people’s contacts. Post often. Remember to share helpful articles at a higher rate than promoting your own content. Comment on posts in your stream and start conversations. Publish articles on LinkedIn (you can duplicate posts from your blog). 

I’m sure you’re already checking for network connections at companies at which you’ve applied. Take it one proactive step further by looking up the target companies before they have a job opening. Ask your contacts for introductions to key employees. Then follow up by asking them for coffee or a call to learn more about the company. When a position does open up, you'll have a contact who may be able to refer you. 

LinkedIn Dashboard

Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the dashboard on your profile page. Your dashboard includes:

  • Who viewed your profile
  • Post/article views
  • Number of search appearances

Social Media Examiner explains what you can learn and offers tips to get the most out of this data. And, you don’t need a premium account.

LinkedIn only offers limited access to see who is viewing your profile if you don’t have a premium account. But, here’s a hack provided on Quora for getting more vision into who’s looking at you. It’s the first answer on the page (as of when I published this). 


Nimble Prospector
Nimble isn’t a job search tool, but it’s proving to be a useful resource. What is Nimble? In their own words:

Nimble is an easy-to-use CRM that works for you in Office 365, G Suite, and everywhere else you work. It automatically combines your contacts, communication histories, email inboxes, and calendar appointments. 

One of my contacts introduced me to Jon Ferrara, Nimble’s Founder and CEO. He was nice enough to offer me a free year of Nimble to see if it could be helpful in my job search (full disclosure). In general, Nimble brings all of your contacts’ information together in one place for easy access. 

For my job search, what I’m finding most useful is its Prospector feature. When in email, social media or a company website, the feature pulls information on company employees I'm looking up. It searches for their contact information and social media accounts. I can also search for specific contacts. This comes in handy when I’m researching the hiring managers.   


Slack Group

Slack is a tool that you can use for internal teams or external communities. It replaces endless email trails and offers easy-to-follow threads for conversations. It also offers direct messaging. It’s like Facebook groups (without dealing with ads) and LinkedIn Groups (without as much self-promotion).

How can it help you in a job search? By getting involved with Slack groups. The groups offer opportunities to interact with current and new contacts. Show your expertise by answering questions and offering perspectives. Being active in the groups can help people get to know you. Many groups also share job opportunities. You never know when a hiring manager may be part of the group.

There are a variety of Slack groups you can join. I’m a part of three: Content Marketing World, Spin Sucks and Analytics for Marketers. Do a little research and you might find a whole new world of opportunities for any field you’re in. Interacting for even a few minutes a day can expand your network.

Job searches are a full-time job. You have to work at it to find and secure the position you want. It’s all about networking, but there are other things you can do to help yourself and to help others help you. Take advantage of the recommendations above and you’ll be ahead of a large number of other job seekers. Good luck to you and if I can help in any way, let me know. Thanks for reading and use the comments to ask any questions and share your great new job when you get it!

Monday, March 16, 2020

How to Cut your Marketing Agency Budget the Smart Way

When economic times are uncertain, many companies look for areas in which they can reduce their budget. The area that tends to get the brunt of the cuts is marketing, especially if you are using a marketing agency. Companies may look to bring more of their marketing work in-house or pull back on the overall marketing budget. I'm not advocating that companies should cut their marketing budget. In economic downturns, companies should put a higher focus on marketing. But, if you're in a situation in which you don't have a choice, be smart about how you decide to cut your marketing agency budget. Work with your agency and ask questions to find the right solution. The more you understand about the strategy, the smarter decisions you can make for your budget. 

The sections below examine two categories. The first based on an understanding of the strategy and tactics the agency is running. The second focuses on more tactical and practical checks that can impact what you are paying.

Strategy and Goals

Are You Aligned on Goals?

Most agencies work with clients to create an annual marketing plan. They base the strategy and plans on the company’s overall business goals. But, situations might cause your company to change its goals. In these cases, you need to keep your agency updated so you’re all on the same page. 

If your business goals change enough to affect your current marketing strategy, the agency needs to adjust its plans. This is also a good opportunity to lay out any new budget constraints. But, allow them to propose additional tactics that might be effective enough to justify a higher budget.

Even if your goals haven’t changed, make sure your agency’s work is still laser-focused. Ask how each program contributes to your goals and how they work together in the full strategy. If they’ve started drifting away from your goal, you need to rein them and your budget back in now. 

Do You Understand How the Marketing Tactics Work Together?

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay
When your agency developed the initial (or annual) strategy and brand messaging, did you understand the full plan? All the tactics they include work together to get the best results. For example, blog posts they write serve multiple purposes. For SEO, the posts add new content to the site and increase search rankings for specific keywords. For the customer experience, they answer customer questions or solve their problems. For thought leadership, they show your industry expertise and build your credibility.

This strategy built the foundation for the program the agency is running. Beth Kapes, president of Cleveland-based Moving Words Into Action, understands better than most the importance of the strategy. Many companies call her in to fix programs in which there was no initial strategy or the companies drifted away from the plan. She offers this advice: 

From a budget standpoint, each of the tactics has a cost. But, the tactics work together to reinforce the strategy. So cutting a whole tactic (i.e. blog posts, emails, social media, etc.) can have a bigger effect on the whole program. You need to understand the different ways each tactic is benefiting you. That's not to say if you stop or slow down on one thing, it all collapses. But, knowing how it affects the full program helps you make a better decision. And, if you get to the point where you need to call Beth to get your program back on track, you'll be adding more costs from what you're trying to reduce.

Is the Work Itself Defined?

The work itself is sometimes an area where companies like to let the agency just do what they do. That makes sense. That’s why you hired them. But, be sure you understand what they include with certain jobs. 

“Optimization” is a word agencies use that can be vague. Search engine optimization (SEO) and website optimization are two examples. There are specific tasks for these that the agency should be willing to go over with you. Are they performing the same tasks every month or are they prioritizing a large list of tasks? How are they showing you that the work they are doing is effective?  

There is also usually a category of Marketing Management (or similar) which are the charges for the miscellaneous tasks for the account manager. It includes client calls/meetings, reporting, budget management, and more. It can be a bit of a catch-all for things that don’t fit under specific projects or monthly tasks. Have them define what this category includes and their process if they run out of budget.

Are They Delivering Results?

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay
Results aren't a cost, but it is a check to show the agency is being effective for the money you’re paying. Not every program is going to give you results right away. Some tactics may not be consistent from month to month. Find out what you should expect each month and what triggers the agency to know they need to adjust a program. Understand what steps the agency can take to adjust underperforming programs (tactics, personnel, etc.) and if that will affect your budget. 

Are you getting reports of the results as often as you need them? These are generally monthly reports or dashboards. Work with the agency on what they should be reporting. It should be based on what you (or your boss) need to see to justify the budget. Don’t take standardized reporting if it doesn’t give you the information you need. Depending on how long you've been running the program, the data may show tactics that can easily be adjusted from a budget standpoint.

Tactical and Practical

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

Who’s Doing the Work? 

Internal Employees

Your main contact is the account manager. He/She might be your only contact, but it’s rare that others aren’t working on different aspects of your account. Some information you should know:

  • Who’s doing what?
    • What is the level of experience for each person working on your account?
    • Does the agency charge differently for different employees?
      • If so, how is this determined (employee level, type of work, etc.)?
      • The agency should be transparent in how they charge.
  • If there’s a personnel change, how does that affect the work they do for you? 
    • Are you notified?
    • Are there changes in billing if there’s a personnel change? 
    • If there’s a gap in hiring, who’s doing the work (if anyone)?

3rd Party Resources

In some cases, agencies may use freelancers or contractors for aspects of your work. Some may be using trusted people they’ve worked with for years. But, some may be hiring freelancers from sources like Upwork for each client and/or job. There’s nothing wrong with that, but finding resources from these types of services may be something you can do internally to save money.

Regardless of their sources, it’s important you know if the agency is marking up the price. This is standard, but you need to know how much. Are they marking it up by a certain percentage or are they charging you the same rates as an internal employee? Again, this may be an opportunity to save a considerable amount of money by doing it in-house. That takes time, so you may be willing to pay the extra amount to have the agency do the legwork.

How Are You Charged?

Most agencies tend to charge in three ways, and it can be a combination. All are based on the time spent doing the work. An hourly cost is simply $X per hour in which the agency charges based on actual time spent. Monthly retainer costs are specified monthly recurring charges based on a set amount of time allocated to spend on a task. Project-based costs are one price for the whole project. These are for projects that have a defined start and end the costs are determined by the number of hours they expect to work on the project. 

While those are straightforward, make sure you understand the following:

  • Are you charged the full amount even if they don’t use all the time allocated?
    • Does any unused budget roll over to the next billing period?
  • What happens if they run out of budgeted time? 
    • Are you charged for extra time?
    • Do they stop the work and pick up with the next billing period? 
    • Do they notify you beforehand in either scenario?

Agency Tools for your Account

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Agencies use many tools to run their businesses and to benefit their clients. Many of the costs are passed on to you, sometimes at a lower shared cost if used for many clients. Understand what you're paying and if the charges will fluctuate (if add or removing other clients) or static. Also, ask about their process for ensuring charges are removed from the invoice if they stop using a certain tool.

These include:

  • Software Tools: Some of the tasks may have specific tools that make their work more efficient or are just necessities. Examples may include SEMRush or AHRefs for search engine optimization, HubSpot for marketing automation/blogs/email, or separate email tools like Mailchimp
  • Website Tools: If the agency developed and manages your website, there may be extra costs. These include hosting, plug-ins used on the site, domain renewals and more. 
  • Overhead Items: These can be tools like their conference call service (yep, some agencies bill that to clients) and video conferencing services. Find out any other miscellaneous costs that will be on your invoice. There may be opportunities to save costs here by using tools you may already have access to.
  • Marked Up Items: As mentioned above with third party resources, most agencies mark up these costs. This also includes handling working with outside vendors like printers, third party web hosters, and more. The cost generally is for their time. If you want to avoid those costs, you can take on those tasks. Again, it’s time you then have to spend which may be worth the extra cost.  

Make sure you know what to expect to see on your invoice. But, if you don’t know what a charge is, ask them. And if you need them to label things a certain way, they can do that too.

These are the ways you can reduce your marketing agency budget without cutting your marketing success. The biggest key to getting to the price you need is open communication with your main contact. Along with getting the budget that you’re comfortable with, you’ll also build a better, cost-effective relationship with your agency.

What other tips can you share for reducing marketing agency costs? Tell us in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Beware! The Best Concert Year in Decades Will Kill Rock Music

2020 is turning out to be an incredible year for rock concerts. It may be the best year for concerts since the early ‘90s. Everyone you can think of is out there (with the exceptions of Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne who have health issues). Every rock music fan should be in our glory. So why do I think 2020 might kill rock music once and for all? Is it too much of a good thing? 

There’s a perfect storm brewing that could have a huge effect on the future of rock concerts. 

Every Band is Touring 

Like I said above, it seems like every band is touring this year. It kicked off with Motley Crue’s reunion tour announcement that had die-hard fans on the edge of their seats. Not only a new tour but a stadium tour with Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett. Tickets went on sale and sold quickly (more on that shortly). Since then, there have been multiple tours announced every week:
  • Reunion Tours: Motley Crue, Poison, The Black Crowes, Rage Against the Machine
  • Farewell Tours: KISS, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones (not billed as a farewell, but let’s face it, they’re likely not making it back to most of the cities on this tour again)
  • Vegas Residencies: Aerosmith (beyond highly recommended!), Scorpions with Queensryche
  • Festivals (A few featuring Metallica headlining two nights)
  • Cruises
Oh, and there are still tours to be announced (I’m looking at you, AC/DC!).

Higher Ticket Prices

(Source: Terminal Tower Cle Twitter page)
I remember the first time I went to see the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd (separately) in concert in 1994. Tickets were in the $50 range for field seats, and that was considered outrageous then. Not long after, The Eagles reunited and charged $80 per ticket! That one was too rich for my blood back then. Fast forward to 2019 when the average ticket price was $96.17. Think we might be capping out on pricing? Live Nation and Ticketmaster think that ticket prices are undervalued and an "incredible bargain" with fans willing to pay a lot more. We’re seeing that philosophy turning into reality this year. How much are you willing to pay?

Shady Ticket Practices

On top of everyone touring, most are teaming up for two, three or four band events. Great! Better value. We all win, right? Well, here’s the catch. Most are playing venues above what they should be playing. Sorry, but other than the Rolling Stones, there shouldn’t be any stadium tours. Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Poison would have had trouble selling out a stadium in the ’80s. Yes, they’ve sold a lot of tickets, but have they really? Again, more on that in a minute.

The Sammy Hagar/Whitesnake/Night Ranger and Alice Cooper/Tesla/Lita Ford shows are playing amphitheaters that none of them have played in probably 20 years. Why? Because they can offer lawn seats at really good prices. Don’t want to sit on the lawn? You can pay the overinflated pavilion seat prices. Tickets for the Alice Cooper concert are ~$45 higher than last summer’s show at a smaller venue (comparable seats). Two tickets including the service fees and $50 paved parking (the lowest-priced paid parking; free parking is available, but the difference in time of getting out of the venue can literally be 2-3 hours) came out to just under $400. I couldn’t justify that cost and walked away without buying them. I checked recently (about a month after they went on sale) and there are A LOT of pavilion seats available still. 

StubHub and the Secondary Ticket Market

Remember when scalping tickets was illegal? Now it’s big business. Resale sites like StubHub are selling tickets at ridiculous prices. Ticketmaster and artists are cashing in by transferring batches of tickets from public sale to sell on StubHub...before you have a chance to buy them. Billboard published an article with proof from a recorded phone call in which Ticketmaster was taking thousands of Metallica tickets and putting them directly into StubHub resale (fraud anyone?). They justify it by saying that artists aren’t able to get true market value for their tickets through regular ticket sales. 

If you think this is an isolated case, take a look at almost any Ticketmaster concert and see how many tickets are available for resale. Below is a screenshot of Motley Crue tickets available for their Cleveland concert. See all the red dots? Those are resale tickets. So much for the great ticket sales… The good news is that when they don’t sell, a lot of people may be able to get a really good deal on the day of the show (or so I’m hoping!). 

New Ticket Price Variables

On top of raising ticket prices, Ticketmaster is following the pricing strategy of another fan-favorite industry...airline tickets. Many variables go into airline prices and Ticketmaster sees the opportunity to capitalize:

  • Platinum Tickets: What’s more fun (read as shady) than overpriced tickets? Overpriced “Platinum Tickets” that fluctuate due to demand! According to Ticketmaster, this will detract scalpers from getting the best seats. They say they’re taking 10% of the seats (the good seats) and adjusting the prices live based on demand. They believe they’re standing up for the artists so that the money goes to them. Maybe, but the money’s still coming from fans. And I’m sure Ticketmaster is getting a nice chunk of it too. See a seat for the $129 standard ticket price? Blink and now it’s $249. Blink again and it’s $479...and up and up.

    I watched this while I was trying to get tickets to Sammy Hagar/Whitesnake/Night Ranger. I couldn’t figure out what the standard price was, so I tweeted:

    I got no reply (shocker…). Rage Against the Machine felt the rage of their fans due to this (pun intended!). They actually did something good(ish) given the circumstances. They are donating any amount paid over the standard ticket price to charity. But, it confused fans who just saw huge ticket prices. Tom Morello took to Twitter to answer fans’ frustrations and explain the process. That went about as well as you would expect and Morello came off more annoyed than helpful.

    The problem is that while we hate scalping, what we really hate is paying outrageous ticket prices. This program might keep some tickets away from scalpers. But if the fans have to pay the same inflated ticket price anyway, we lose. So, Ticketmaster and the bands may as well be scalping their own tickets.
  • Aisle Seats: Want to buy a ticket for an aisle seat? Like some flights, that will be an extra $10. Congrats, you get to pay extra to move every time someone else in the row wants to go to the bathroom or get another beer.
  • Day of the Concert: You know how you always wish that big show was on a Saturday instead of the middle of the week? Now you’ll get to pay extra for that luxury (that you have no control over). Ticketmaster plans to fluctuate ticket prices based on the day of the concert.

Presales and VIP Packages

Ticketmaster pricing practices aren’t the only things standing in your way. Remember when ticket presales helped the bands’ biggest fans, usually fan club members? Now there are presales for fan clubs, credit cards, sponsors, radio stations, Live Nation, etc. Especially with package tours, there may be three or four fan clubs with presale tickets for one show. It’s very easy to get a presale code. There are only so many “good” seats available with each presale. But as a whole, they’re taking a bigger chunk of seats. So what’s available when the regular tickets go on sale? Your guess is as good as mine. To be fair though, I’ve fared better in a lot of cases with general public ticket sales than presales (but not always). 

What else is pulling away from the good seats? VIP packages. Pay a lot more and get a meet and greet with the band and guaranteed tickets in a certain section or row. The bands say they have to offer these packages to make money...and much of the money goes back into the tour. They don’t make money from CD sales any more so this helps. I get that. If I had the extra cash lying around, I’d go VIP for one or two of my favorite bands. For those of you that do buy them, I hope the experience is worth it and the band members are cool (I know not all are). 

Is It Live?

When you buy a ticket to see your favorite rock band in concert, what’s the one expectation you have? That they’re actually playing live, right? We know pop artists are playing to tracks and tend to lip-sync, but that’s NOT ok in the rock world. And it shouldn’t be. But, it’s becoming a point of discussion more and more. There are bands we know are lip-syncing and/or playing to tracks. KISS is clearly lip-syncing on the End of the Road tour and Motley Crue has admitted to using backing tracks. For that reason, I skipped KISS’s last appearance in Cleveland and won’t be going to see Motley Crue’s reunion tour. I can’t justify paying hundreds of dollars to see a band not play. Yes, the spectacle might be fun, but I’ve seen both bands before back when they were playing (they were playing back then, right? Right?...RIGHT???)

It’s a growing issue and Eddie Trunk brings it up almost daily on social media or his radio shows. Bands have even talked about other bands not playing live in concerts. The problem is that nobody will name names. I understand in Trunk’s case as he relies on interviewing the bands to make a living. Start mentioning names and that could dry up for him fast. But, nobody will stop until they are specifically called out. As a fan who can’t go to every concert I want to, I’d like to know who’s actually performing and who’s not. That will decide where my money goes.

The Future of Rock Concerts

With so many concerts at such high prices, most of us won't be able to go to all. We’ll make hard decisions and skip some shows we want to see. As a result, there will be concerts that will not sell enough tickets. Will promoters cancel shows if it doesn't sell well? Probably. Justin Bieber is likely to cancel Cleveland and Columbus stadium dates. They didn’t even put the tickets on sale. I know...I laughed too when I heard. But, that might happen to any of the rock bands.  In fact, Guns ‘n’ Roses are struggling to sell tickets in Toronto.  

If tickets don’t sell the secondary market will also struggle. Ok, this may not be a bad thing. It might even be good for fans to take advantage of LOWER ticket prices if sellers end up needing to unload them. 

Concert promoters will chalk up cancelations or lack of ticket sales to the bands not being in demand or oversaturation of the concert market. They’ll skirt any talk of overpriced tickets or booking bands in the wrong venues. 

The long term effects are what I’m worried about. I believe the bands that don’t sell this year are going to have a hard time getting support for their next tours. The result will be fewer rock bands on tour. This could have residual effects on newer bands and bands that aren’t even on tour this year. Promoters may be less likely to take a chance on them. Promoters will focus on the artists (of any genre) that do sell. And if the concert circuit dries up, many of the bands won’t be able to sustain themselves. 

On the flip side, if the bands sell enough tickets to prove me wrong that would mean that Ticketmaster is right about people being willing to pay higher prices. And next year’s tickets will be even more expensive. Maybe it’ll just be the end of me going to most of the 

What’s your take? Where do you think this is all heading? Is there a “happily ever after” here that I’m not seeing? Is there a way we can all benefit? Tell me in the comments. Until then, enjoy the concerts you go to and rock on! Thanks for reading.

Motley Crue Photo  (Copyright 2008) Courtesy of Photography by Drew Ressler Creative Commons 2.0